iPhone 4 vs. HTC Incredible: Smartphone Showdown

HTC DROID Incredible Strengths & Weaknesses

HTC's DROID Incredible is easily the most powerful smartphone currently available on Verizon Wireless. It's the flagship device, and it's available for the same $199 on a 2-year contract as the iPhone 4. So the rivalry basically sells itself. But if you're trying to decide between these two powerhouse devices, you probably need some insight on the pros and cons of this Sense-equipped phone. Let's dive right into the software, shall we?

Android: A Tinkerer's OS

The Incredible ships with Android 2.1, and a v2.2 update should be rolled out within a few months at most, which will add native Tethering / Mobile Hotspot, a refined user interface and improved performance. HTC's own Sense user interface is skinning the stock Android build, and by and large, we think it's more beneficial than annoying. The addition of a central "Phone" icon at the bottom is particularly helpful (that's not there in the plain Android 2.1), and the HTC widgets are some of the nicest, most animated and most useful in the app universe.

Android 2.1 is great for those who enjoy customizations and the ability to tinker. If you're expecting to just take the phone out and fully take advantage of all it can offer, Android isn't made for you. But that's not to say you can't be swayed. HTC's Sense overlay makes it easy to start customizing Android to your liking, and before you know it, you'll have widgets established on pages (there aren't any widgets in iOS 4), apps loaded from websites rather than the Market and notifications popping into your taskbar. HTC and Android are both about bending for your needs, and it's simple to setup notifications that patiently await your attention in the upper taskbar rather than popping up in your face when you least expect (or need) it.
The OS also supports sideloading, which means that you can install apps you found on websites without the need to visit the App Market. Also, there's a MicroSD card slot here, so you can easily transfer Ringtones, music and other media over via a card reader rather than having to use iTunes or any other piece of dedicated music management software. If you're tired of iTunes taking an hour just for you to load a new digital album onto your phone, you'll love how easy this process it with Android. And then there's the Web browser; Android's browser was faster in our speed tests and page load tests on every try, but not by much. A few seconds faster here and there was it, but still, when you're browsing on your mobile, every fraction of a second counts.

Android also allows true multi-tasking; processing hum along in the background, and all apps support it already. There is no wondering if a given app "supports" multi-tasking, since multi-tasking is in the very DNA of Android. There's even a handy 7-pane panel that shows the most recent apps you've used, which makes hopping in and out of recently used programs a cinch. Android also provides you with a way into Google Voice, which you can easily setup as your new voicemail provider if you choose. Google Voice e-mails you and/or texts you when you get a new voice message, and it can even attempt to translate it into text in those messages.

Incredible Hardware, Too?

As for the hardware? The DROID Incredible is marginally thicker and taller than the iPhone 4, and the 3.7" display is larger than the 3.5" iPhone 4 panel. But the resolution is lower at 800x480 pixels, so you actually have less screen real estate. The AMOLED panel is extremely bright and crisp, and multi-touch support on it is fantastic. But it's not quite as beautiful as the Retina Display on the iPhone 4; that's not to say it looks bad, though--it's probably the second best looking smartphone display on the market today behind Apple's handset. There's also an 8MP camera with dual-LED Flash, which is about as good as it gets for a phone these days. There are also four touch-sensitive buttons beneath the display that enable you to jump in and out of apps, go back or just get to a search command with ease; we wish these were customizable, but it's still better to have them than to not have them.

Limits...There Are Always Limits

If you're new to Android, there's a big, fat limitation you should know about up front. The Incredible only ships with room for 512MB of apps internally (not every single app has been updated yet to support storage on the 8GB of NAND, which is a unique storage configuration), and native App On SD support isn't coming until v2.2 (in a few months). This means that few huge apps can be installed on any Android phone, as the 8GB of integrated storage on the Incredible is only useful now for multimedia storage -- though future versions of Android will hopefully address this (and future app updates will fully support the mentioned configuration). So your pool of potential apps is somewhat smaller, and it's clear that handling apps internally on Android is still undergoing some growing pains. We will admit, though, that having Google Maps Navigation onboard helps that somewhat. This app still requires a live data connection to fully function, but it's hands-down the best turn-by-turn navigation app on any smartphone, and it's included free on every Android phone. With the power of the 1GHz Snapdragon CPU, this app flies on the Incredible.

There's also the fact that not all iPhone apps will end up in the Android App Market. Android serves a smaller user base, so obviously some companies will not bother serving anything but the largest potential pool of buyers/consumers. Take a long hard look at Android's App Market before you commit, because if your favorite apps aren't available there (and you can't get a solid answer on whether or not it will be ported), you will obviously not enjoy the OS fully.

Also, the HTC Incredible utilizes a fair amount of plastic throughout, and while the front/screen itself feels incredibly solid and well constructed, the rear of the device feels somewhat less "high-end" than the glass-backed iPhone 4. The front capacitive buttons are nice and responsive, and the 8MP camera around back is a definite step up from the iPhone. This aspect really depends on how frequently you plan on using your phone as your camera, but if you'd prefer to leave the point and shoot at home entirely, the Incredible offers a more compelling reason to do so.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Unlike the iPhone 4, the HTC Incredible is available on Verizon Wireless. There are obviously pro and cons to this as well. The good news is that Verizon's 3G footprint is far, far larger than AT&T's 3G footprint, and in large part Verizon covers more of America than AT&T. CDMA service also is known to provide better service in mountainous regions. The bad news is that CDMA phones do not have SIM cards, so you can't simply pop out the SIM card of your phone and pop it into another if you decide to just pick up an unlocked phone on the side. That may or may not be a big deal to you, but if you go through phones a lot, having a SIM card makes life a lot easier. Granted, the iPhone 4 uses a rare MicroSIM, but MicroSIM-to-SIM trays are available now for around $10.

Currently, Verizon still offers their $30/month "unlimited" (5GB) data plan, so for heavy users, this is by far a better value that what AT&T offers new customers. The only "gotcha" is that Verizon's CDMA phones are useless in Europe or other nations without CDMA service. If you spend all of your time inside of North America and a handful of other countries, you'll be okay, but if you travel to Asia or Europe with any frequency, you'll find yourself needing to rent a phone upon arrival. The iPhone 4, of course, can work just fine in those countries.

The Highlights

  • Bold, crisp display
  • Excellent 8MP camera
  • Verizon's historically great coverage
  • Extremely snappy performance
  • Outstanding multi-tasking performance
  • Easy to customize, from top to bottom
  • Expandable via MicroSD
  • Android 2.2 update bringing native Tethering/Mobile HotSpot
  • Best-in-class Gmail integration
  • Faster Web browser than iPhone 4 in our testing

  • Not much use in Europe or Asia
  • Smaller app selection
  • Hardware isn't as high-end as iPhone 4
  • No "Home" button; have to press the top power switch to enter phone
  • Lower screen resolution than iPhone 4

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